If anyone qualifies to be called a legend in Indian hockey after Dhyan Chand, it’s Balbir Singh Senior, said Milkha Singh, who condoled the death of his friend.

Former India hockey captain Balbir died on Monday morning at a hospital in Punjab. The legendary centre-forward was 96 and is survived by his daughter Sushbir and three sons Kanwalbir, Karanbir, and Gurbir. His sons are settled in Canada and he lived in Chandigarh with his daughter and grandson Kabir.

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Balbir and Milkha competed together at the highest level for the country in their respective games and even worked together for Punjab Sports department in the 1960s.

“I had a very close association with him. The then Punjab Chief Minister Pratap Singh Kairon had brought us to the sports department, which we had joined the as deputy directorate,” Milkha told PTI.

“We served in the department for three decades both on the sports side as well as on physical education side,” the 90-year-old said.

“We were great friends. He was very close to me and I feel sad that he is not amongst us now. After Dhyan Chand, if there was any [hockey] legend, it was Balbir Singh senior.”

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Milkha, who missed an Olympic medal by a whisker at the 1960 Games, said the present generation should draw inspiration from the lives of Balbir Singh and Dhyan Chand.

“We did not have facilities but we worked hard and made our country proud. Now, there is every facility, but standard of hockey, athletics, gymnastics has gone down, though we are doing good in some games like badminton, shooting. I feel [the] coming generations should draw inspiration from our lives,” he said.

Former Indian hockey team captain Pargat Singh, who is also sitting Congress MLA from Punjab, also expressed sadness at hockey legend’s demise.

Pargat said he started playing hockey because of Balbir Singh, whose death is a big blow to the sporting world.

“During his playing days people used to talk about his impeccable ball control. He motivated me to play hockey,” said Pargat.

In a stellar career, Balbir Singh senior won three Olympic gold medals.